Is Application Management Headed for the Cloud?

Editor’s note: This is the first of two articles on application management using cloud approaches.

In the 1970s, we didn’t think about managing the applications we developed, because we were absorbed in writing and testing their basic functionality. Also, due to the tremendous backlog of applications, we faced pressure to move on to the next project. In the 1980s, the implementation of client-server systems created significant manageability challenges with systems, networks and applications. Client-server computing forced us to address application management or risk losing stakeholders’ support.

By the 1990s, Tivoli Systems had written an application management specification that was a roadmap for developers to instrument their applications for manageability. Now part of IBM, Tivoli developed management software for the middleware used by many applications giving greater visibility to operators and technical-support personnel. Tivoli wasn’t alone in this and many other software companies developed application-management as a discipline just like systems and network management before it. Software tools to address management challenges were created at a rapid pace, however the notion that programmers would develop applications with built-in manageability lost some focus. Programmers, it seemed, still had the same problems they had in the ’70s—writing, testing and moving to the next project.

Managing Applications

Today, the focus is on the entire application lifecycle, not just its operational availability and performance. Automation and software tools have grown in importance and are key to the management of the application. Specialized software packages make the management of industry-leading modules for ERP and customer relationship management (CRM) more straightforward. Also, important standards like IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) and Common Information Model (CIM) from the Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF) have made it easier to adopt process discipline and software standardization in the industry. Summarized in Figure 1, let’s look deeper at these themes:

Operation Versus Full Lifecycle Approach

When an application fails, it immediately needs to get back up and running. Although the failure takes place at the operational stage, elements from other application management steps—like design, build and deploy—are pertinent to understanding the failure and to restoring service. (See Table 1 for a list of the application lifecycle phases as described in ITIL.) For this reason, an appreciation of the full application lifecycle has become an important focus.

Table 1: Application Lifecycle Phases

Phase Step
Application Development  
Service Management  

It’s easy to appreciate that decisions made in the design and build steps have a significant impact on the operational nature of the application. For example, an application designed to exploit RDBMS features will require special attention to its databases during the service-management phase. Database problem-determination skills will be important to operational success of the application.

Automation and Other Software to Manage the Overall Effort

Automated tasks and software to assist the development, maintenance and support personnel play a role in every application lifecycle phase. It isn’t that this software replaces the person but provides procedural guidance and task automation to relieve the burden of repetitive tasks.

Managing applications by lifecycle phase is handled by software from IBM called Rational Solution for Collaborative Lifecycle Management. This product provides requirements management, quality management, testing, change and configuration management, project planning and tracking. Designed to support traditional, agile or hybrid teams, it combines Rational Team Concert, Rational Quality Manager and Rational Requirements Composer into one image that’s available on IBM SmartCloud Enterprise.

Rise of Specialized Tools for Industry Leading Applications

Mature LOB and industry-application packages are complex in nature and require specialized knowledge to be successfully implemented and supported. Accordingly, the application ISVs and systems management companies have developed modules that make it easier to manage ERP, CRM and other categories of application software by specific vendors. The out-of-the box productivity provided by these management packages is extremely useful.

IBM Tivoli Availability Center for SAP provides tools to monitor, diagnose and effectively manage an entire SAP system using a single portal. A common toolset makes it possible to rapidly isolate and resolve problems, reducing IT labor cost. This integrated solution helps team members work together to solve complex problems.

ITIL and Other Key Standards

Well-established and useful, ITIL provides an important framework supporting full lifecycle application management processes.

Software standards like CIM make it possible for management solutions from one or several vendors to interoperate. It’s an open standard that defines how managed elements in an IT environment are represented as a common set of objects and relationships between them. Many implementations of CIM can be found—IBM i, z/OS, BladeCenter, System x, VMware, Oracle and SAP—from hardware through the application itself.

Another example is Application Response Measurement (ARM), which is a standard, published by the Open Group for monitoring and diagnosing performance bottlenecks within complex enterprise applications that use loosely coupled designs or service-oriented architectures. Many applications are already instrumented for ARM, including Apache HTTP Server, Mozilla Firefox, IBM WebSphere Application server, IBM HTTP Server and IBM DB2 Database Server.

Moving Forward

Breakthroughs in application management are likely to come through innovations in cloud computing. Some cloud vendors are offering built-in management functions that shift the burden from the development organization to the cloud vendor. Developers aren’t entirely relieved of the burden, but the nature of the work shifts from primary responsibility to assist role.

Examples include data-centerwide patch management (the cloud patching service) or abstracting the entire middleware as a service (MaaS). MaaS delivers built-in monitoring, problem- and change-management services, pooled support resources, policies for scaling up and down, and metering and optional chargeback on consumed resources.

Other innovations are possible, like customizable patterns in the form of templates that can be used over and over to speed application development and deployment. In-context collaboration, real-time planning, lifecycle traceability and development intelligence are also available in the cloud as part of a full lifecycle approach rooted in current practices but extending the model in new ways. Figure 2 summarizes how application management is likely to move forward. Are you ready for MaaS?

Joseph Gulla is the general manager and IT leader of Alazar Press, a publisher of award-winning children’s books. Joe is a frequent contributor to IBM Destination z (the community where all things mainframe converge) and writes weekly for the IT Trendz blog where he explores a wide range of topics that interconnect with IBM Z.

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